Earning a Cyber Security Master's Degree Online Can Lead to a Recession-Proof Career
August 14, 2021
Launching a career in cyber security doesn't necessarily mean uprooting your life to enroll in an on-campus program. Online graduate degrees are making it easier than ever before to transition into this stable and well-paying field.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 precipitated a global recession that claimed more than 30 million jobs in the United States. Few fields were unaffected by this calamity; cyber security was among the unscathed.
It wasn't just luck; as Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and Advisory CISO at Thycotic, explained to Security Magazine, "Most companies are heavily dependent on those professionals, enabling companies to continue to operate remotely. This has accelerated the largest digital transformation shift to remote working ever seen. With this shift, cyber security priority has increased significantly."
If you're looking for stability in your career and a higher-than-average paycheck, getting a degree in cyber security is a safe bet. A few years ago, the unemployment rate in cyber security was zero percent. While that's no longer the case, a recent (ISC)² Cyber Security Workforce Study found that a substantial shortage of cyber security professionals in the US continues. With the job market growing at a breakneck 32 percent pace—according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics—that's unlikely to change any time soon. Even better, high salaries are the norm in this field, in part because there are still more jobs in cyber security than there are professionals qualified to step into them. Qualified is the key word here.
Cyber security may be a seller's market, but employers are still exacting when it comes to what they're looking for in new hires. Companies in industries as diverse as healthcare, finance, and manufacturing have had to figure out how to keep vast quantities of sensitive information safe from hackers and thieves. The solution typically involves bringing on highly skilled cyber security professionals. If you want to become one of the cyber security experts who command six-figure salaries, you'll need the bona fides to prove you have what it takes. In other words, you'll need a graduate degree.
The good news is you won't need to uproot your life to earn a master's degree in cyber security. In this article about earning a cyber security master's degree online, we cover:
- Why pursue a master's degree in cyber security?
- Are online cyber security master's degree programs similar to on-campus programs?
- How much do online cyber security master's degree programs typically cost?
- Does it take longer to earn a cyber security master's degree online?
- Which colleges and universities offer a cyber security master's degree online?
- What can I do after earning a cyber security master's degree online?
- How can I maximize the value of my degree?
Why pursue a master's degree in cyber security?
There are numerous reasons earning a master's degree in cyber security is worth it. Yes, it's technically possible to advance in this field with a computer science bachelor's degree, the right IT security certifications, and a strong professional network. That said, a cyber security master's degree can improve your job prospects, boost your earning potential, and help you qualify for senior management positions that won't be open to you if the only degree on your resume is a bachelor's degree.
You might also find that it's a lot harder to get a job in cyber security these days without a graduate degree. Five years ago, most listings for cyber security jobs required applicants to have bachelor's degrees. Today, many more employers are looking for IT security analysts, architects, engineers, and managers with advanced degrees.
An online Master of Science in Cyber Security is just one possible degree out of many. You might also pursue a:
- Master of Science in Applied Information Technology with a cyber security concentration
- Master of Science in Computer Engineering with a cyber security concentration
- Master of Science in Computer Information Systems & Cyber Security
- Master of Science in Computer Science with a cyber security concentration
- Master of Science in Cyber Security
- Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering
- Master of Science in Cyber Security Management
- Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership
- Master of Science in Information Systems and Security Management
- Master of Science in Security Informatics
- Master of Science in Technology, Cyber Security and Policy
- Master of Information and Cybersecurity
All the above degree pathways introduce students to state-of-the-art security technologies and give them a firm foundation in cybersecurity best practices. They also provide the skills necessary to oversee security strategy in IT.
Are online cyber security master's degree programs similar to on-campus programs?
Most online cyber security master's degree programs track on-campus programs in terms of admission requirements, focus, faculty, core courses, and the number of credit hours required to graduate. Robust online learning platforms provide students pursuing a master's-level cybersecurity education with feedback from their professors in real-time. They also allow students to collaborate on group projects and complete hands-on work and capstone projects similar to—even identical to—that in in-person programs. The curricula in most master's degree programs in cyber security focus on security technologies, best practices in security engineering, cyber security policy, security planning, and risk assessment.
At the University of Tulsa, for example, students in the online MS in Cyber Security program take core courses and elective online courses like:
- Cyber Security Law and Policy
- Defensive Cyber Security Technologies
- Foundations of Cyber Security
- Hardware Security
- Information Systems Assurance
- Network Security Concepts and Applications
- Organizational Cyber Security
- Secure Systems Administration
- Security Audit and Penetration Testing
- Systems Security and Cryptography
Every school approaches this discipline differently, however. Some online cyber security master's degree programs offer coursework in:
- Algorithm analysis
- Cyber defense strategies
- Cyber security architecture
- Digital forensics/Computer forensics
- E-commerce security
- Emerging cyber threats and cyber attacks
- Incident response strategies
- Information assurance
- Intrusion detection
- Recovery planning
- Risk management
- Security code development
- Security risk analysis
Online cybersecurity programs often differ from on-campus programs in how much pre- and post-graduation career support they offer. Programs conducted on-campus often give students myriad opportunities to connect with industry leaders through guest lectures, conferences, competitions, and networking events. To facilitate similar opportunities, some online programs require students to complete one or more campus residencies. Other online master's degree programs help online learners connect with local resources, companies, and networking events to help them launch or advance in their careers.
How much do online cyber security master's degree programs typically cost?
Graduate programs in cyber security, whether delivered online or on-campus, can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 in total tuition—or more if you're accepted into a program at one of the top cyber security schools.
Some people initially look into online master's degree programs because they assume programs for distance learners will be less expensive. Unfortunately, that's not usually the case. The per-credit cost of online degree programs is often identical to on-campus programs. Sometimes distance learners actually have to pay additional fees. It is still possible to save money by studying remotely, however, because you'll avoid commuting, relocation, and additional housing costs when you enroll in an online degree or graduate certificate program.
Online students in cybersecurity master's programs are eligible for federal and state loans such as FAFSA and other kinds of financial aid. They can also apply for scholarships, of which there are many—some of which are full-tuition scholarships and major scholarship programs funded by the federal government—because demand for cyber security professionals is high in both the public and private sectors. Some employers will even cover the cost of a cyber security master’s degree for qualified employees. If your employer doesn't have an explicit policy regarding tuition reimbursement, ask HR whether the company will cover some or all of the cost of an online cyber security master's program. It can't hurt, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Does it take longer to earn a cyber security master's degree online?
Most full-time cyber security master's degree programs last between 18 months and two years, whether students study online or on-campus. There are some accelerated alternatives, including one-year programs with no breaks between semesters, as well as part-time programs that last three years or more. At the University of Tulsa, students can complete the online cyber security master's degree program in as little as 20 months or over four years, depending on how many classes they take each semester.
Which colleges and universities offer a cyber security master's degree online?
Some of the best online cyber security master's degree programs can be found at:
- Drexel University
- Johns Hopkins University
- New York University
- Pennsylvania State University - World Campus
- Syracuse University
- University of Arizona
- University of California - Berkeley
- University of San Diego
- University of Tulsa
What can I do after earning a cyber security master's degree online?
After earning a master's in cyber security, you will have the skills and knowledge to take on any of the following roles:
- Cyber security consultant, earning $116,000
- Cyber security director, earning $142,000
- Cyber security engineer, earning $96,000
- Information security analyst, earning $98,350
- Information or cyber security manager, earning $114,000
- Information security engineer, earning $115,000
- Information security officer, earning $121,000
- IT director, earning $119,000
- IT security architect, earning $123,000
- Network security engineer, earning $114,000
- Penetration tester, earning $121,000
- Security engineer, earning $111,000
- Senior network engineer, earning $100,000
- Software security engineer, earning $142,000
As you can see, salaries in cyber security are high. The average salary for cyber security jobs (which includes entry-level jobs) is almost $113,000, and top-paying positions like chief information security officer can come with paychecks over $300,000 per year.
Don't expect these numbers to change any time soon. Companies in fields as diverse as healthcare, retail, entertainment, and finance all have network security needs; firms across those industries are handling a lot more sensitive information; and the cyber intelligence threats they're facing are growing increasingly severe. Demand for cyber security professionals is also great in government; you've heard of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), right? They're both always looking.
How can I maximize the value of my degree?
If you have misgivings about studying computer security or cybersecurity online because you're worried about missing out on networking opportunities or that employers won't respect your degree, there are some steps you can take.
Earning one or more cyber security certifications can make your resume stand out when you don't have as much professional experience as other candidates, making you more attractive to potential employers. Look into the:
- Certified Ethical Hacker credential
- Certified Information Systems Auditor credential
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional credential
- Cisco Certified Network Associate Security credential
- CyberOps certification
- Global Industrial Cyber Security Professional credential
- Offensive Security Certified Professional credential
You should also seek out additional internship opportunities independently before and after graduation if you're accepted into an online cyber security master's degree program. These don't have to be related to programming. You can get experience in cyber security product sales or QA. If you have the ethical hacking chops, you can hang out a shingle as a freelance bug tester and gain experience by finding flaws in other people's software.
Remember, too, that getting a master's in cyber security is only the first step in this field. The threats to information security and people's privacy are constantly changing, which means cyber security professionals never stop learning. You may as well start now by buckling down and studying up on whatever related topics weren't covered in your degree program.
Balancing internships, your online studies, and your professional obligations may be tough, but it will be worth it in the long run. As Robert Herjavec, founder and CEO of Herjavec Group and a Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank, said in a video interview with Cybercrime Magazine, "If you know cyber security, then you have a guaranteed job – for life." Not many people can say that these days.
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